What’s up with this Jesus guy, anyway?

I said last week that I wish  the group of Christianity that I seem to exist within could be called something else –  anything else, actually. Whatever it takes to separate ourselves from the Neanderthal nonsense that certain types of Christians spout on a regular basis. I’ve mentioned this to friends of mine, none of whom are Christian. All of them immediately respond with something like, “Ok, so you’re not a hate-filled fundamentalist. That’s good. Ok, you say the Bible has been used for so much harm, and is also too contradictory, to be useful as anything but an interesting text amongst interesting texts. That’s valid. But, the real question is do you believe in Christ?”

And I guess that is the question isn’t it?

I’ve always thought of Christ as, for lack of a better term, an avatar of God. I believe that the breaking of this world caused a schism between our finite world and eternity that only Jesus could breach. I believe Christ was God made flesh, that what he experienced went directly back to the entity that is God. And I believe that happened so that God could experience humanity without the separation that normally exists between the finite and the infinite.

 

Like this, but with slightly higher stakes.

Like this, but with slightly higher stakes.

 

In addition, I’ve always found the Christian practice of Jesus worship (particularly their fixation on the instrument of his death) to be bordering on maudlin idolatry. Despite believing in him, I’ve noticed through my faith journey that I talk directly to God, and that only twice has Jesus been the focus of my worship specifically.

The first time, I was thinking about the Jews, and how they had the automatic in with God. (Not really, but . . . you know. God’s chosen people and all that. You get it.) And then I thought about how it was only because of Jesus’ sacrifice that I was able to experience the things I was experiencing with God. I was so struck by that for a moment that I, for the first and only time in my life, said the words “Thank you, Jesus” without a hint of irony.

The second time was a particularly bleak period for me; I was having some first world problems and being a big baby about the whole thing. Long story short, I generally felt like shit. I was about at the end of my rope, when I had a dream. In the dream, Jesus and I were hanging out. Just hanging out, like any two friends might. We were talking, and through the process of our talking, Jesus did what I imagine Jesus did to practically everyone he met. He looked at me, and in seconds broke down all of my walls, saw right to the heart of me, and said some gentle thing that unraveled the entire core of my problem.

“Well, *I* recommend a hot oil treatment once a month, exfoliate daily, and try to eat lots of foods rich with Omega-3 fatty acids.”

“Well, *I* recommend a hot oil treatment once a month, exfoliate daily, and try to eat lots of foods rich with Omega-3 fatty acids.”

 

The whole dream was striking and vaguely uncomfortable because I HAAAAaaaaAAAAAAATE being on display like that, even to Jesus himself. But, it was also comforting because I felt such love and unconditional acceptance. When he suggested (not commanded) that I change some behaviors or habits, it felt like a suggestion given out of an undeniable and tangible sense of love and a desire for my well-being. I’ve never felt so exposed or so accepted in my entire life. The sensation of that dream stayed with me for days. For weeks.

Aside from those two situations, Jesus doesn’t enter my thoughts as anything other than the way I am able to do the things I am able to do and experience the things I’m able to experience. When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one gets to the father but through me,” I read that as, “Because I did this thing, you get to talk to God.” Most people seem to interpret that statement to mean something more like this:

“Immediately disregard everything I said about not worshipping me. I never wanted that before, but now. . . I died for all you assholes! So . . . make with the worship or be forever condemned to the fires of hell!”

"Awwwwww, are you SERIOUS? And I paid for supper, too!"

“Awwwwww, are you SERIOUS? And I paid for supper, too!”

 

Now, I’m not sure I believe in the fires of hell – at least, not in the way that hell is often portrayed. But that’s another blog post entirely. Either way, when left to my own devices, I don’t pray directly to Jesus any more than I would express profuse thanks a computer for allowing me to access the internet. The computer isn’t the internet, it’s just my doorway to it, and no man comes to the WTFaith blog but through it. (Disclaimer – I do not pray to the internet.) So it is with Jesus and God, in my mind – because of Jesus’ sacrifice, I can pray directly to God.  And that’s great – but that doesn’t mean my prayers need to be directed toward Jesus.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate what Jesus did for me. Really, it’s more to do with the difficulty in determining what I know about him. The problem is, the only place Jesus is ever talked about is in the Bible. I have some issues with the Bible, more-or-less because I have issues with people.  Everything humans touch, we tend to fuck up – and the Bible has been touched so much it has to point at a doll in a closed room meeting. I doubt its infallibility, because I recognize how easy it would have been for power hungry people, with access to the early books,  to change the Bible to suit their desires. People tell me that wouldn’t happen, because it’s the Bible and people worked very hard to preserve it. I find that to be a very sweet idealism, and I hope they never see the cynical, stop-at-nothing face of humanity that I have seen. Call me paranoid, but I just don’t trust us. Even if it started as the inspired (and therefore infallible) word of God himself, it has been used to justify and cause so much pain and harm that it no longer resembles its original self at all. I don’t know about God, but when I’m dealing with my kids, and they start using some toy I bought them to hurt their siblings, I take the damn toy away and revoke their privilege to use it.

And yet, despite all of the reasons I shouldn’t, I believe in Jesus. With my inability to believe the Bible as infallible, why do I believe in Christ? Why is it Christianity that drew me through the door? Why is it, despite all of my issues with being associated with the beliefs and actions of (what the majority of the world considers to be) Christians, here I am writing an off-color blog about practicing the Christian faith? I have an answer to this question, but it is kind of simple and unsatisfying. I believe in Christ because that seems to be the direction all the signs and portents I’ve experienced point to. More importantly, no matter how pissed off I seem to get at Christians, when I think about throwing Baby Jesus out with the bathwater, it feels . . . wrong.

I compare the feeling I get when thinking of no longer believing in Jesus, while still maintaining my faith in God, to looking at a car’s engine and trying to fix a problem. I know it’s an engine, but that’s about where my understanding of its mechanics stops. That engine is very complex,  and since I’m only kind of sure what I’m looking at, I should probably not mess with it. I should probably call in a professional.

Something tells me I can’t fix one of these with pithy  comments. . .

Something tells me I can’t fix one of these with pithy comments. . .

 

That’s kind of how I feel about maintaining a belief in Christ. The interpretations we have of who Jesus might have been or what he was trying to teach us differs a lot from person to person. I’ve heard people that depict him like a vegan, hippy sort. I’ve heard people depict him like a biker or hunter, kind of a grizzled sort. I picture him as a dude wearing a hoodie, hanging out and enjoying being with the people around him. We have such a brief glimpse into the life of this person, all of it only ever documented in one place. It stands to reason we would compartmentalize him to be someone we could relate to. Because of that, though, we tend to put our own interpretations on his character, his actions and his words. That makes it hard to really know who he was. Be that as it may, I recognize him as important even if I don’t fully understand all the mechanics and inner workings of that importance. Given my lack of understanding, I should probably leave that alone and get a professional if something breaks with it.

So, why, if I don’t believe the Bible as a literal and infallible word of God, and if I disagree with most modern day Christians, why do I continue to associate with them? The best answer I can give is that the things I’ve felt from God and his interactions in my life are, for me, beyond doubt. When I was lost and looking for a home, God led me to Hillside – he made his stance on Jesus pretty clear. And, most importantly, despite how uncomfortable some of the things surrounding believing in Christ make me, when I think about separating that from the experiences I have, it just feels wrong.

I’ve decided to trust my instincts and my intuitions on this topic, and thus far it hasn’t done me wrong. How about you guys? Has there ever been a core tenant of your faith that you found yourself struggling to believe? Did you find it hard to keep your faith around it, or did you determine you were just getting lost in the metaphoric weeds and got over it?

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About Brandi Mitchell


7 responses to “What’s up with this Jesus guy, anyway?

  • visitingmissouri

    About twice a year, there’s a thought in my head that says ‘What if it isn’t true? What if, when you die, you’ll never know, because there will be nothing?’ I have constant discussions with myself on about every aspect of my faith, but that one frightens me, because it’s the end of the road. I can have done all my thinking right, have let go of all things I couldn’t figure out, accepted grace, and it could still be mere imagination run wild. At those moments, I remember the little fridge magnet my dad had over his desk: ‘Quo Vadis?’, where else to go? Even if it all weren’t true, I honestly believe I have nowhere else to turn to.

    • Jennwith2ns

      Dostoevsky said something like that once, I believe. It’s deep . . .

    • Brandi Mitchell

      You know, that’s really deep. I mean, even if it is all imagination run wild, it’s preferable, I think, to believing its all just coincidence that I’m embellishing.

      I think in my case its that I like the idea of a magical world. All things being equal I’d rather believe in something than nothing. This something makes the most sense I think.

  • Veronica M. Surges (@jurisdoctorette)

    Brandi, I love this post! First of all, even though we’ve only met IRL once, I totally read parts of it in your voice and it makes me super happy that we will soon be living in the same city.

    Second, I love your honesty. You and Dan have given me some interesting food for thought about the Bible, how to interpret it, addressing doubt, and simply questioning what all of this means. I got goosebumps when I read your description of your dream because I have no doubt that that was Jesus in the flesh in your dream (I know that doesn’t work, but whatever). Reading posts like this from you really encourages me.

    Third, I get lost in the metaphoric weeds ALLLLLLL the time. I love that Mumford and Sons song that goes, “plant your hope with good seeds, don’t cover yourself with thistles and weeds.” I’m the WORST with focusing and dwelling (i.e., planting) on anxiety, fears, doubts, etc., and get really bogged down in the details of what is and isn’t real and true and what I should believe and how I should believe it and OMGMGMGMGG WHAT IF I’M WRONG OMGGGGGGG GOD HATES ME. It’s really helpful to take a step back, admit my doubts, and then just relax. Again, the WTFaith blog post about doubt last summer really helped me learn how to do that.

    As for Jesus, I like your description as an avatar of God. I guess I don’t mind worshipping him because (1) I’m really worshiping God and (2) the whole sacrifice and resurrection thing is kind of a really big deal – oh, and as a public defender, I really like his teachings and love the fact that he is the image of God.

    I’m rambling now and don’t have a great way to zip this all up, but the point is that I loved this post, I love you guys, and I can’t wait to see you soon!

    • Brandi Mitchell

      V – I love when comments are organized for my replying pleasure!!

      Firstly, Thank you! I like to think my personality is dynamic enough to come out through my writing, though thankfully my spoken grammar shines through much less (thanks again to the worlds best husband/editor Daniel.) Im super psyched how close youre gonna be! I predict many late night intellectual conversations in our futures! (By “late night” I mean “10 pm.” we’re super lame)

      Secondly: Its really hard to be that honest. I find, while Im not ashamed of the way I feel or think, I DO tend to default to the reaction “punching” when put on the spot. I dont like to be so exposed. In a way, the blog is a kind of therapy for me. Im glad that out of that, something good was able to come. You saying we’ve given you things to think about, questions to ask and possible new ways of seeing things youve known by rote since you were a wee lass, that makes every ounce of uncomfortable honesty worth it. Thats why I do this. I always pray that any given blog post I write will touch someone out there. Its really encouraging to hear that God’s working in the way God works, and that hes using my clumsy typing to do it! \o/

      Third: Oh my god, I know exactly how you feel. I can tell you if Im not the one doing that, then Daniel is happy to pick up the slack to the point that it feels like theres never a moment of just quiet, contented faith. It caused us to worry for a while if we werent the fallow ground, even though we really wanted to be the good soil. I was reading this fictional book about John (The apostle) and it was all in all pretty terrible and not historically accurate which is important to me, even in a fiction. There was one part that struck me though. It was this scene that took place after Jesus gave his parable about the sower. Theyre sitting down to dinner, and John starts talking to Jesus about how he doesnt feel very fertile as far as soil goes. Hes like “Man I WANT to be with you, like, my HEART is totally with you, but give me 5 minutes alone and Im all caught up in tons of crap.” And Jesus kind of smiles and says “Its the soil’s job to receive whats put into it, its the planters job to make sure the soil is ready for planting. ” And I know that wasnt in the bible or whatever, but I thought it was really illuminating.

      Maybe sometimes I AM fallow ground, maybe we all are, but God is still tending the plot of our life, so as long as we keep trying to receive whats thrown at us, eventually, between receiving and being tended, we’ll yield harvests instead of weeds.

      And I think Jesus as a whole is a really interesting character study of God. his softness, his love, the fact that he wasnt afraid to weep. . . Things that I admire and him, and yet somehow think would make me myself weak. . . Its an ongoing comparison between myself and him as I try to beat my base instincts to become more like his example. . . Its ongoing.

      Anyway, thanks for the comment!

  • Peter Benedict

    Super. Super. Great. Post.

    Thank you.

    I view the Bible a bit differently than you do (God-breathed is OK with me), but not much (inerrancy is indefensible and sometimes silly). But the core of my faith in Christ is personal experience of Christ, not words convincing me of something I then will to be true… we share a common foundation, methinks.

    “No man cometh unto WTFaith but by the Internet” made me LOL, haul Erin over, and LOL some more. Awesome way to put something I’ve tossed around with friends in a much less humorous way.

    Great stuff all over this one.

    • Brandi Mitchell

      Thanks Pete! I appreciate your lulz! I was pretty proud of that line about the internet.

      I think you’re right about our foundations being similar. I feel like I’m learning more every day, but its those experiences that make the difference. Absolutely.

      Funny you should mention breath of God. I always said I liked that saying, along with “God moved”. It implied he was so epic all he had to do was breathe or shift a little and shit changed. Lives changed. Crazy.

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